From: Chegitz Guevara <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Biko family lose battle over S.Africa truth body (fwd
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuter) - South Africa's most powerful court Thursday rejected attempts by the families of murdered activists, including Steve Biko, to prevent apartheid killers being pardoned if they confess.
The 11-member Constitutional Court ruled that Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission had the right to grant amnesty to people who committed human rights abuses under apartheid if they tell all about their crimes.
Biko, whose story was told in the film "Cry Freedom,'' was killed in police detention in 1977. He was amongst at least 90 black leaders who were murdered or who disappeared under white supremacist rule.
Dumisa Ntsebeza, acting chairman of the commission while Tutu is at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, welcomed the judgement, saying it would encourage human rights offenders to tell the true story of apartheid rule.
"What this judgement says is that anyone who applies for amnesty and gets it shall be immune from prosecution, either civil or criminal,'' he told a news conference in Cape Town.
Biko's family brought the action along with relatives of lawyer Griffiths Mxenge, who former security policemen say they killed in 1981, and of African National Congress activist Fabian Ribeiro, who was murdered in 1986.
Their lawyers argued that their rights to justice and redress were violated by the commission's power to protect human rights abusers from prosecution or civil damages claims.
The commission, which began its hearings this year, was the result of a compromise in talks which led from white domination to majority rule. It is intended to heal the wounds of the past through voluntary confession rather than inquisition and has the power to grant reparation to victims of 30 years of atrocities.
Judge Ismail Mohamed said the court was unanimous in its judgement that the constitutional negotiators put reconciliation above revenge.
"Every decent human being must feel grave discomfort in living with a consequence which might allow the perpetrators of evil to walk the streets on this land with impunity,'' Mohamed said.
But the constitution aimed to uncover the truth about past abuses by allowing the guilty to confess all, and without the promise of amnesty few perpetrators would come clean, he added.
The Azanian People's Organization (Azapo, a black- consciousness group which helped the families to bring their action, said it was disappointed at the ruling.
"It takes away a fundamental right of the people to apply to the courts for adjudication,'' Azapo President Mosibudi Mangena told reporters. "We think this has important consequences for democracy in this country.''